Musings on Photography

Bad Arguments

Posted in process by Paul Butzi on March 6, 2007

In the post-Wall vacuum, there seems to be a groundswell of opinion that meaning in photography is, like, not there.

I can’t vouch for all of the arguments, since I haven’t read them all (and probably can’t find them all).  Some that I have found, though, are notably wrongheaded.

For example, in this post, Mark Hobson (aka The Landscapist) writes:

John Szarkowski curated an exhibit at MOMA From the Picture Press– in 1973 which consisted of press photographs presented without captions/text. It was said that the photographs seemed strangely ambiguous, which supported Szarkowski’s claim that photography was nota narrative form and that photographs lacked an immediate legibility. According to Szarkowski, photography was ‘an art of details and fragments and not an art of storytelling’ – that meaning is simply not in the image.

This notion stands in stark contrast to the conventional wisdom that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, the idea that complex stories can be told with just a single still image, or that an image may be more influential than a substantial amount of text.

To the contrary, I have always felt that a picture needs a thousand words.

Consider the famous “napalm girl’ documentary photograph from the Vietnam War. Without captions and/or text it is obviously a picture of some scared kids in a war-like setting. Other than the general time-tested idea that ‘war is hell’, little else can be known. In order to grasp the full horror which image represents, words are a must.

Mark implies that, if photographs can’t express the “full horror” which the image represents, and that words are needed to flesh it out, then clearly the photo carries no meaning. 

Examine this argument by reversing the roles of photograph and text.  Go to the web, look for a description of the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.  Cover the photos, and read just the text.  Ah, the horror.  But strangely, the complete gestalt of the horrific events of Sept 11 can’t be captured in the text.  Photos are needed to flesh it out; photos of the collapse of the towers, photos of the planes impacting the buildings, photographs of the posters all over Manhattan as people tried to find their missing loved ones.

Now, given this state of affairs, can we turn around the Szarkowski quote, and say that writing is an art of details and fragments, and not an art of storytelling – that the meaning is not in the text?

Of course we can’t.  Text carries meaning.  Photographs carry meaning.  The combination of text and photographs can carry more meaning than text along, or photographs alone.  That’s all fine and good, and it tells us that combined text and photos are an interesting thing to explore (Brooks Jensen has been banging on that drum for years now).  But what it most assuredly does NOT do is tell us that text doesn’t carry meaning, or that photographs don’t carry meaning.

Another argument goes like this: photographs seem to mean different things to different people.  So, because the meaning carried in photographs lacks specificity, there is no single meaning, and thus the meaning must not be significant, and we might as well skip to the bottom line and say that photographs don’t mean anything at all.

Wrong.  Everything means different things to different people.  A newspaper story about the death of a child will mean one thing to the parents of the child, another thing to the people who live near the family, and something completely different to someone in a different culture on the other side of the planet.  That doesn’t mean the story has no meaning, it means that the story can be understood on different levels by audiences with differing understanding of the subject.  And, (ahem) it appears that this is true with photographs as well.  Big deal.

Anything that carries meaning is susceptible to this problem.  That’s because even written language is subject to differing interpretations.  It can be ambiguous (that is, it is not sufficiently specific to allow only one interpretation), or it can be confusing (complicated and hard to follow) or even irrational (that is, it is not interally consistent and thus no single interpretation accounts for everything).  It can be simultaneously literal and metaphoric, so that it carries multiple meanings all at once.

Next, there’s an argument that runs along these lines: some photographs seem to carry very little meaning.  In fact, this argument states, the meaning content of a single photograph is so small that it falls below a threshold and we might as well just say that it carries no meaning at all.  De minimus, as Oren Grad put it – the meaning of a single photograph is miniscule, and we are not concerned with trifles.

Sure.  But the meaning of a single word is, similarly, trifling.  And yet, somehow, we seem to be able to take these words, which have minimal meaning independently, and arrange them in additive ways to convey ideas of greater scope and specificity.  We don’t say words are meaningless, we just accept that the ‘meaning’ content of a single word is small and get on with the sentences and paragraphs and essays and doctoral dissertations on the meaningless of the concept of authorial intent.

So perhaps we can lay that particular argument to rest, too.  And while we’re at it, we might spend a bit more time thinking less about single photographs and more about larger bodies of work – the photographic sentences, or photographic paragraphs, or (wait for it) the photographic essay.

Finally, I’ve seen the argument that some photographs carry no meaning, or at least no meaning that is easily articulated in language.

First, the fact that there exists a photograph which carries no meaning doesn’t imply that photographs can never carry meaning.  There might be infinitely many possible photographs which carry no meaning, and infinitely many which do carry meaning.  It’s the same with sentences – the existence of meaningless sentences (Noam Chomsky seems particulary skilled at generating meaningless sentences, for instance) does not imply that sentences which carry meaning can’t exist.

But even leaving that rather obvious refutation aside, the idea that for something to have meaning, it must be easily articulated as language strikes me a falling wide of the mark.  We communicate meaning from one human to another in a variety of ways, one of which happens to be language.  A photograph can carry a wide array of meanings in a variety of ways.  The fact that it’s burdensome to attempt to translate that array of meanings exhaustively into language doesn’t mean that the photograph is void of meaning, it just means that there are some things better done in other ways.  Or, as Lewis Hine put it, “If I could tell the story in words, I wouldn’t need a camera.”

27 Responses

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  1. tim atherton said, on March 6, 2007 at 6:21 pm

    “Text carries meaning. Photographs carry meaning”

    what language to photographs use to carry that meaning?

  2. Paul Butzi said, on March 6, 2007 at 7:30 pm

    what language to photographs use to carry that meaning?

    I assume you mean ‘do’ and not ‘to’.

    You have two choices.

    a) You can say that not all meaning is carried by language.

    b) You can say that the meaning is carried by a visual language.

    How do YOU think the meaning in photographs is conveyed?

  3. Oren Grad said, on March 6, 2007 at 8:04 pm

    The ultimate test is empirical. If you show a photograph to a wide range of people who have not already been tutored in its purpose or context, the common meaning they extract from it will be sufficiently primitive as to render the difference from the function of words in a text a matter not of degree but of kind.

  4. Paul Butzi said, on March 6, 2007 at 8:29 pm

    The ultimate test is empirical.

    Great. I look forward to you sharing your empirical results. But until you have controlled empirical results across a wide range of photographs and populations in some form of controlled experiment, you’re talking speculation and dressing it up by saying it’s empirical when it’s not.

    But, before you go ranging off to perform the experiment, you might want to nail down what ‘sufficiently primitive’ and ‘function of words’ means, because those are pretty vague terms coming from someone who is claiming that words are definitive, specific means of carrying meaning.

    I could probably show that sentence to a wide range of people not tutored in the statements purpose or context, and the common meaning they extract from it would be sufficiently primitive as to render the difference from the function of a photograph a matter of degree, and not kind.

  5. tim atherton said, on March 6, 2007 at 8:30 pm

    “You have two choices.

    a) You can say that not all meaning is carried by language.

    b) You can say that the meaning is carried by a visual language.”

    so for a) vis a vis photographs, what alternative way is used to convey meaning apart from language? How does this operate?

    or for b) what is the visual language that applies to photographs? Does it meet the standard understanding of a lamguage?

  6. tim atherton said, on March 6, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    okay – it’s late – typos excepted

  7. Oren Grad said, on March 6, 2007 at 8:50 pm

    I agree that there are several terms in my proposition that would require some negotiation to operationalize. It can be done, though it’s not trivial to make it proof against the obvious methodological pitfalls, especially when it comes to interpreting the results.

    I’m prepared for my beliefs on this to be falsified. But what I’d need to see is examples of photographs conveying complex and novel meanings, not just triggering cliches that are well-rehearsed within a shared culture, with a probability substantially and significantly above chance.

  8. Paul Butzi said, on March 6, 2007 at 8:59 pm

    what alternative way is used to convey meaning apart from language?

    Beats me. The the fact that I can’t explain how it works in detail doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Lots of folks don’t understand the chemical reaction that makes gunpowder work, but that doesn’t keep them from using guns effectively.

    How does this operate?

    I expect that photos convey meaning because they present a visual stimulus that’s similar to the stimulus of a real scene, but I don’t know. Again, the fact that I don’t know doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. And the fact that you don’t know, likewise.

    what is the visual language that applies to photographs?
    Well, that would make a nice doctoral dissertation, wouldn’t it? Interesting, but little bearing on whether meaning is being conveyed. Either it’s conveyed, or it’s not. Understanding the mechanism is just an interesting side pursuit.

    Does it meet the standard understanding of a lamguage?
    Beats me. But if you’re asserting that it doesn’t meet the conventional meaning of the word ‘language’, you’re just back to option A.

  9. Paul Butzi said, on March 6, 2007 at 9:17 pm

    I’m prepared for my beliefs on this to be falsified. But what I’d need to see is examples of photographs conveying complex and novel meanings, not just triggering cliches that are well-rehearsed within a shared culture, with a probability substantially and significantly above chance.

    Well, to be really rigorous, you’d need to apply this standard to written language, as well.

    Try this. Take your writings to a place where the people have no shared culture with you. Show them your writings. See what meaning they can wrest from the writings. (hint: a common language would be shared culture, wouldn’t it?)

    Looking forward to those empirical results.

  10. Darrell Klein said, on March 6, 2007 at 9:29 pm

    Wow guys, it is getting heavy over here. I am not going to put my dog in this fight. I will just say that I do think there is meaning communicated through photographs. I do however believe that the meaning is largely in the eye of the beholder. The photographer tries to convey a meaning to his viewers. When his viewers get that same meaning, it is a beautiful thing. However, it probably doesn’t happen as often as we photographers would like for it to. I try to look at it this way. If someone looks at my photographs and takes away a meaning that stirkes a chord within them, then I have succeeded. It may not be the same meaning that I intended to communicate with the photograph but at least a transaction is taking place.

  11. tim atherton said, on March 6, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    “How do YOU think the meaning in photographs is conveyed?”

    Okay, this should probably be a post on my own blog and just referenced here… but it probably needs more tidying up for that 🙂

    So – this isn’t exactly original, and not terribly concise, but since you asked, here goes…:

    Photographs deal in appearances – in how something looks or appears (not necessarily how it really – empirically – is). And it does this differently from something like painting. It grabs a quote, so to speak, rather than translates and interprets.

    The thing about appearances is that they give a certain coherence to things. Now, this may not be enough to constitute a whole or complete language, but it’s probably enough to give is a partial language (the upside of that being the resulting ambiguity is what often gives photographs part of their power). Appearances cohere with regard to certain things both within nature, and also within our perception and memory. It is at this point the we find meaning. It may not be measurable or quantifiable (it predates the Cartesian revolution). But appearance in and of themselves can be sufficient enough to provide a level of meaning that goes beyond the purely personal (i.e. beyond “that is a picture of my grandmother, who I loved as a child, so it has meaning for me).

    And while it does depend in part certain common shared experiences and social norms – it certainly isn’t entirely so at all. There are broad shared universal ways of reading appearances as well as private personal ones (and everything in between – including readings that are shared across a broad group but are also highly personal).

    The point being that with almost every act of looking there is an associated expectation of meaning (which is quite separate from the desire for an explanation). If this wasn’t so, it would be actually quite hard to function in the visible world. What we see – the appearance of things themselves – can indeed reveal something – a meaning. (It would be hard to walk down the street without walkign into a tree if this weren’t so)

    Now certainly, with photography, how expressive that meaning is does quite often depend on what the particular viewer brings to the picture and what they are looking for. But it isn’t ONLY dependent on that. Appearances are able to provide a level of significant meaning quite independent of the personal history of the viewer. In fact the best, strongest, most expressive photographs are often the ones in which those to combine to a great degree. Such a photograph reveals something – meaning (I suppose we could say it is meaningful) – that goes beyond what is easy to measure. The best photographs are often ones in which those appearances cohere together in a very unique way – and one in which the particular and the universal are unified in some way. All this weaves together in a way that can’t easily be expressed in words (it would take far far more than a thousand) and is where the strength of a photograph lies – a whole raft of extensive visual correspondences – appearances cohering (as they do every day when we look around us) – woven and interwoven together, seen in an instant, lifted and quoted by the photographer and transferred to the photograph

    (E&OE…)

  12. Oren Grad said, on March 6, 2007 at 10:22 pm

    Darrell, that’s precisely the point. The meaning is in the eye of the beholder and is only randomly the same as what the photographer has in mind, which is to say that it doesn’t get communicated from the photographer to the viewer.

    Well, to be really rigorous, you’d need to apply this standard to written language, as well.

    Written language meets the standard easily, photographs not at all. That’s the point. You can teach the Constitution of the United States with words alone; even, if necessary, to a person who has been blind from birth. No quantity of wordless photographs can do anything of the kind.

  13. sjconnor said, on March 6, 2007 at 11:12 pm

    Photographs carry no meaning in themselves. The meaning is put there each time someone views the photograph (other than the trivial, “Oh, that’s a tree”). Don’t believe me? Have a look at the photographs on any photo web site you like and try to figure out what the photographer “means” by the photograph. Even when I look at my own, the “meaning” changes every time. Which means that I’m the one putting the meaning into the photographs, not that they contain any. There’s absolutely nothing in a photograph of the entrance to a parking garage that would be universally graspable except that it’s a photograph of the entrance to a parking gargage. Why did I take that photo? What was I thinking at the time? What possible purpose could I have had? None of those questions is answerable by looking at the photo.

    On the other hand, there’s absolutely no confusion about what all of the foregoing text means (assuming a reader who shares the same linguistic – i.e. “English” – background). It’s clearly a response to the question of, “What do photographs mean?” The word, “photograph” has a clearly defined meaning, as do all the other words. A photo has no such equivalent. There’s no dictionary for photographs.

    Which, of course, is their strength and their weakness. They mean what the viewer thinks they mean.

    And, all of the above means I agree with Oren.

  14. David Grundy said, on March 7, 2007 at 6:57 am

    There seems to be an important unstated assumption here: Some of the comments above assume that all meanings can be communicated by words. Surely there are meanings which can’t be communicated readily by words? If the meaning of a photograph is not readily expressed in words, then it’s not surprising that different people can’t extract the same verbal description of the meaning of a photograph. The very act of trying to explain the meaning might force you to move (mentally) away from the meaning, into a verbal space which doesn’t include any way of accessing the meaning of the photo.
    One other thing – I think it’s unrealistic to suppose that people understand exactly what you mean when you describe an idea in words. Even in technical spheres with very precise language, people still misunderstand each other; and words used outside technical conversations tend to have different connotations for different people. My observation is that we don’t usually check for exact understanding; and so most of the time in more casual conversation we don’t realise that people don’t understand us very precisely.
    I’m certainly not saying that all photographs have meaning, or that even necessarily that many do; I’m just saying that it seems to me that the fact that you can’t get agreement on words which describe that meaning does not necessarily mean that there is no such meaning.

  15. Paul Butzi said, on March 7, 2007 at 7:30 am

    You can teach the Constitution of the United States with words alone; even, if necessary, to a person who has been blind from birth. No quantity of wordless photographs can do anything of the kind.

    Ah, but Oren, you stated that it had to work by “not just triggering cliches that are well-rehearsed within a shared culture

    But that’s what a common language IS, Oren. It’s shared culture, and the meanings of individual words are, in fact, cliches that are well rehearsed in that shared culture.

    So, for instance, I think you would have a very hard time teaching the meaning of the US Constitution using only English words (and no translator) to a group of people who speak only Mandarin.

    And that’s exactly my point. You’re claiming that, because the properties of the viewer affects the meaning that the viewer takes from a photograph, then there isn’t really any meaning.

    But it’s clear that meaning can be conveyed by language, and yet you’re unwilling to apply the same standard to language. Any individual sentence will be interpreted differently by different readers/listeners. You may think this almost never happens, but in fact it happens all the time and we have a huge contingent of people who seek to produce documents that, by dint of herculean effort, admit of only one interpretation. They’re called lawyers, and they’re everywhere.

    And so, to use your example, you might think that you can teach the meaning of the US constitution using only words. But it seems to me that there’s rather a lot of disagreement about what that document actually says.

  16. Mark Hobson said, on March 7, 2007 at 8:27 am

    Hi all

    IMO, the debate about whether words or photographs (to be clear, I never stated that photographs have no meaning) are better conveyors of meaning is somewhat specious, at least to my point which, in a nutshell, is – pictures accompanied by words are better at conveying meaning than either are alone.

    Documentary photographs – ones which we see in newspapers, magazines, etc. – demand words for clarification and understanding of their meaning(s).

    Art photography, which thrives on ambiguity of meaning, is nevertheless enriched/complimented by words – both written and spoken – starting with the words of the artist (artist’s statement) and followed by those of critics and those of the ‘simple’ everyday observers of Art.

    Without words, Art photographs in particular, become somewhat like Rorschach inkblot tests – the meaning which observers create for themselves says more about the personality characteristics and emotional functioning of the observer than it does about the intended meaning(s) – if there even was one – of the photographer.

  17. Oren Grad said, on March 7, 2007 at 11:24 am

    You’re claiming that, because the properties of the viewer affects the meaning that the viewer takes from a photograph, then there isn’t really any meaning.

    You may think this almost never happens, but in fact it happens all the time and we have a huge contingent of people who seek to produce documents that, by dint of herculean effort, admit of only one interpretation.

    Sorry, these are straw men. I’m not claiming that words are an error-free communication medium. I’m asserting that the capacity of a photograph to convey meaning is so vastly smaller than the capacity of words that they are media of an entirely different kind, and that photographs by themselves are not a useful tool if one’s purpose is to convey meaning. And further, that claims about conveying anything but the most stereotyped of meanings through photographs alone will not stand up to critical scrutiny.

    Re Mark’s point about the power of words and pictures combined: of course. On the one hand, as Mark observes, documentary photographs demand words for clarification and understanding; without them, they won’t function at all as documentary. On the other, photographs are much more powerful than words at conveying the surface appearance of things. In so many contexts, having just a few of one can enormously enrich the other.

  18. tim atherton said, on March 7, 2007 at 12:39 pm

    “On the other, photographs are much more powerful than words at conveying the surface appearance of things.”

    which, of course, is how much of our lives are carried out. We assign and accept meaning (often very significant meaning) based on how we see things – what their appearance conveys.

  19. janina said, on March 7, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    Oh dear oh dear! Why is it that men have to intellectualize everything? In the words of a famous psychologist, who shall remain nameless in this instance, in essence: “Life has no meaning. We as individuals have to “create” that meaning.” (There was a whole lot more to that quote, but this little part of it is the relevant bit.) How does this concept of the meaning of life transfer to the meaning of photography? To wit: Why did the photographer take the picture? Was it to create just a record, or to express a feeling? As has also been expressed elsewhere, most photographers want to be painters. What is it that painters do? They express feeling. How others will view that feeling depends entirely upon that other’s level of maturity gained from life experience. That feeling will change over time and, hence, that picture will mean something different to that person each time it is viewed at different periods of time in that person’s life. Cultural symbolism is an affect of brainwashing and is something that one needs to grow out of if one is to mature as an individual. Keep what’s important, throw out the rest. And, yes, of course, this is purely personal. Applies to one’s idea of photography as to anything else in life. In other words, just because you tell me a photograph has importance for such and such a reason, doesn’t necessarily mean it has that importance for me. I bring my own import to it, if any.

  20. tim atherton said, on March 7, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    PS “…conveying the surface appearance of things.” lets not confuse surface with superficial

  21. tim atherton said, on March 7, 2007 at 12:57 pm

    “As has also been expressed elsewhere, most photographers want to be painters. What is it that painters do? They express feeling.”

    Oh dear ho hum – why is it women like to make so many assumptions…

  22. Oren Grad said, on March 7, 2007 at 1:32 pm

    which, of course, is how much of our lives are carried out. We assign and accept meaning (often very significant meaning) based on how we see things – what their appearance conveys.

    Yes. And that’s not necessarily a pejorative observation. Stereotypes exist not just to cause mischief, but because we need mechanisms for economizing on information in order to get by.

    Beneath all the fuss here, a key point of contention between Paul and me seems to be what’s the boundary between meaning that can be considered purely stereotyped, de minimis, and not very interesting, and meaning that can be considered “complex” or “novel”. That’s a distinction that I think is real – again, beyond a certain point a difference in degree becomes a difference in kind – but it’s also very difficult to nail down rigorously with a few casual remarks. Just because it’s difficult to define the boundary precisely doesn’t mean the distinction doesn’t exist, but I do think Paul is reasonable to point to this aspect of the argument as something that bears scrutiny.

  23. Ed Richards said, on March 7, 2007 at 8:22 pm

    > Without words, Art photographs in particular, become somewhat like Rorschach inkblot tests – the meaning which observers create for themselves says more about the personality characteristics and emotional functioning of the observer than it does about the intended meaning(s) – if there even was one – of the photographer.

    I thought that was the point of art in general. The last thing I am interested in reading is critique of art photographs – I want to see the photos and imbue them with my own meaning. I suppose this is why I do not care much for constructed photographs that are full of inside jokes and allusions that you need an art history degree to appreciate. I can see why curators would love them – makes them feel like that time doing the PhD was not wasted.

    > And it does this differently from something like painting. It grabs a quote, so to speak, rather than translates and interprets.

    We translate and interpret by what we take pictures of, by editing the world down to our photographs. I do not see much difference from painting, other than we make collages of reality, rather than just faking it completely.

    I am having a lot of trouble appreciating why there is so much strum und drang on this topic. At least as regards art photography, like all art, the meaning is internal to the viewer – the power of the art is its ability to stimulate this meaning. All photographs have meaning, they just do not have a single meaning.

  24. Oren Grad said, on March 8, 2007 at 10:57 am

    Ed, there’s sturm und drang because people are sometimes find entertainment in debating things. But it’s important to keep this in perspective. IMO the pictures Paul makes, and his ideas about the role photography can play in one’s life, are far more important than any disagreement about the boundaries of meaning in pictures.

  25. Gordon said, on March 9, 2007 at 8:31 am

    I think the key comment in the initial post is about photographic sentences or photographic paragraphs/ essays.

    Most photographs are phrases or sentences. Some, particularly stellar photos might be raised to the level of quotable quotes. But just like most phrases or sentences, the meaning in isolation is a slippery, reader provided interpretation. Subject to the whim and mood of the reader, their background, experience and so on. Many quotes are as ambiguous as to be meaningless too, inspirational to one, symbolic of the opposite to others.

    Single photographs would seem to map quite well to that sort of level of meaning. Each photograph in isolation might make sense to many viewers in different ways, but the combination of a set of images then allows the photographers meaning to at least start to come through.

    Some people are better at the pithy quote, or the high impact image, others take a more long-winded approach to make their point.

    “No man means all he says, and yet very few say all they mean, for words are slippery and thought is viscous.”

  26. Gary Filkins said, on March 11, 2007 at 11:20 am

    After following the above series of comments and similar discussions or threads elsewhere, I remembered the aluminum plaque attached to the Pioneer Spacecraft in the early 1970’s.

    In terms of hoping to convey meaning to individuals having no common culture, I suspect the Pioneer Plaques (and possibly the Golden Records on the two Voyager’s) are about as far-reaching in their attempts as any novel or photograph.

    It seems noteworthy that these attempts to communicate (convey meaning) were reduced to images. In the Golden Records, there are recordings that may or may not ever be heard but even those were accompanied by graphic attempts to suggest how they might be played — and none of US is likely to see any empirical evidence of how well they did or do their job(s) . . .

  27. janina said, on March 12, 2007 at 8:58 am

    Gary says: “It seems noteworthy that these attempts to communicate (convey meaning) were reduced to images…” Much like, for instance, the Egyptian pharaohs ‘wrote’ about their lives on their tombs using hieroglyphs (images), that have taken centuries to be deciphered, and are probably still being worked out more precisely (my guess only as I’m not an egyptologist).

    “…Each photograph in isolation might make sense to many viewers in different ways, but the combination of a set of images then allows the photographers meaning to at least start to come through…” Recently I uploaded a series of 17 sunset pix onto my blog, depicting the start to the end of the sunset, hoping to convey a sense of time and also the beauty of that sunset (sunset-23feb07). The images weren’t the greatest as I use my cellphone to capture the images for my blog (the purpose of the blog is to try and be creative using my cellphone’s camera). However, there was one person who commented on and appreciated that sense of time, over that of seeing a picture that shows just a brief moment in time, as we see most sunset pix. And, yet, it was interesting that he could comment only on *one* of that series (that he liked), rather than the whole; so, I can only venture that that one image meant more to him than the series.

    Getting back to having text with photographs — I can only state my personal preference on this matter and that is, I do not think it is necessary to have text “explaining” the picture. To my mind, that is like an oxymoron. I grew up going to art galleries on a regular basis and I don’t recall seeing any of the artworks having explanatory text to the paintings, even ‘though that has become more prevalent over the last, say, ten to fifteen years here in Australia. I think I can look at images of any kind, without text, and not have any pre-conceived notions/assumptions/ presumptions about the content. I just like to ‘absorb’ the image and let it speak to me. I always try to place myself in the shoes of the painter/photographer, so that I have some idea of what they were trying to achieve/say with that image. Sometimes that works, sometimes not. Some pictures stand out, a lot don’t.


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